How Tillotson Construction made a good first impression with the Ensign Co-op

Story and photos by Gary Rich

During the late 1940s and early 1950s many Kansas co-ops were planning new elevators. Grain production was increasing; thus, the old wooden elevators were not large enough. Ensign Co-op, located in Gray County thirteen miles southwest of Dodge City on US-56, needed a new one.

Looking for a concrete elevator with a lot of capacity, the Co-op contacted Tillotson Construction Co., of Omaha, Nebr. I am guessing the elevator was built around 1950 or 1951. Ensign Co-op has since changed hands several times. There are no records or blueprints available.

The first annex, seen right, was of single bins and allowed a path for trucks.

The elevator Tillotson Construction built was of a very unique design. First of all, it did not have a curved headhouse like so many other elevators they were building.

Secondly, this elevator had a double driveway. Many elevators built at that time had a single driveway. The use of semis hauling grain to the elevator was many years away. The only vehicles bringing grain to the elevator were farm trucks and pickups.

When the Ensign Co-op needed further expansion, they contacted Tillotson, which built the first annex east of the elevator. This probably occurred in 1952 or 1953.

The double driveway created some engineering problems. The annex had to be built at an angle from the elevator. This would allow trucks using both driveways a path around the new annex. The first annex was set a distance from the elevator.  Tilloston solved the problem, making the annex with eleven bins. The first bin was a single bin, while the others were double bins.

About 1957, Ensign Co-op was looking at additional expansion. Tillotson was contacted again. They built the second annex, connected to the first, in 1958. Nine double bins increased the total capacity to twenty-nine bins.

Typical of the company’s later projects, the second annex’s manhole covers included the year of construction. All manhole covers inside the elevator and first annex have “Tillotson Construction, Omaha, Nebr.”–but no dates.

Tillotson built the elevator as well as the first and second annexes. The company produced a quality product as the Ensign Co-op kept contacting the company for additional capacity. The Ensign Co-op had to be very impressed with their work. 

This is a rare case where Tillotson built an elevator and then returned to the same town and built several annexes. Generally other construction companies built the expansions.